By Matt Sinclair ’90
One reason for the proliferation of television shows about criminal law: It’s hard to get bored.
“On a daily basis, you’re never going to get the same thing,” says Erin Reynolds Kelsh ’03, describing her work as an assistant district attorney in the felony trial bureau of the Office of the Bronx District Attorney.
She handles the trial aspects of attempted murders, robberies, serious assaults, and burglaries. Typically, hearings or trials might last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Though not at liberty to speak about particular cases, Kelsh says she has worked with clients who have experienced terrible losses and who were in danger even as cases progressed.
“I’ve had to move witnesses,” she recalls. “What’s interesting about each case is that you’re dealing with somebody who is almost certainly undergoing one of the most traumatic events in their life. It’s very satisfying to help them deal with it or get some closure to that horrible ordeal.”
Indeed, since participating in her first mock trials at Lafayette, Kelsh has enjoyed the dynamic environs of a courtroom. When she joined the Bronx DA’s office, she began in the criminal court bureau, which handles misdemeanor crimes. On her first day, she appeared in court before a judge. She also prepared and presented felony cases –- shootings, robberies, burglaries –- for grand jury.
A government & law and French graduate, Kelsh participated in an externship in the Manhattan DA’s office. Later, while attending New York Law School, she interned for a full summer in that office. She also took advantage of an opportunity to clerk for a judge in New Jersey for a year in civil and family matters, but discovered she still had a passion for criminal law.
“It’s always changing,” says Kelsh, “and I like working directly with people, working with victims of crimes, and working in a courtroom.”
Her French language skills have played an important and unexpected role. Some Bronx residents come from francophone African communities and are less comfortable communicating in English. They appreciate their French-speaking counselor.
To be sure, her ability to communicate with her clients has been at the heart of Kelsh’s success. Many of the people she meets on an everyday basis have been victimized in a variety of ways, and she recognizes the value of listening to what they have to say rather than simply talking at them.
“Both schooling and professional opportunities have helped me develop my people skills,” she says. “Being able to deal with every person as a person, no matter who they are or what situation they face, is vital to what I do.”